Thursday, 27 October 2016

Doctor Strange

Doctor Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the world’s top Neurosurgeon, capable of performing even the most complex operations. However, he suffers a terrible car accident that destroys the nerves in the hands, meaning that his livelihood is destroyed. Strange hears a strange story about a former paraplegic who regained the ability to walk, this leads Strange to even stranger things in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. In Nepal, Strange finds a society, led by The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), that dedicates their lives to protecting the world from the evils of the dark dimension, which former disciple, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), wishes Earth to become part of.

Another new origins story and another new superhero to add to the Marvel universe and judging by the post-credits sequences it’s likely that Dr Strange would join up with another Avenger in the near future. Unlike the DC movies, Marvel tends to get the origins story right and whilst the film suffers from an issue where it’s too quick to blaze through the training sessions, it's still a good introduction to the character. We’re led to believe that performing the most advanced magic requires years of practice but Steven Strange learns it all willy nilly and is able to cast the most advanced spells within...weeks? Months? Not sure as the film doesn’t really make it clear how long he was in training for (we do catch a glimpse of him struggling but it’s a mere footnote).

However, as an origins story it’s an impressive introduction to a new if flawed hero. Like Iron Man, he’s arrogant, and condescending and patronising to others he feels are beneath him, kind of like Sherlock from the BBC TV series who was also played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch is terrific in the lead role, his condescending arrogance and his mellowing regarding that aspect of his personality work well. He is well supported by Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One (the source of the ‘whitewashing’ controversy) whose low key, yet powerful performance suggested that The Ancient One was always in control of any scenario.

It’s a testament to the excellent quality of Marvel’s output that superhero fatigue is still truly to take affect. It helps, however, to have action sequences that feel fresh in comparison to the growing repetitiveness of the action sequences in similar films where the central hero or heroes bat away an endless army of foes. The city and environment bending GCI wizardry is greatly similar to Christopher Nolan’s Inception (there’s even a fight in a corridor), but to the power of ten as entire cities are bent to the will of the sorcerers.

The film gets around the issue of causing millions of deaths (this was a flaw of the recent X-Men film and many other superhero films) by having them fight in a mirror world, which has no effect on the world they were just in. These action sequences stray a long way from frantic, mind numbing repetitiveness of the action scenes in the latest superhero films, it’s this freshness that helps make Doctor Strange more memorable than the recent superhero incarnations.

Scott Derrickson is normally a director of horror movies, Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister are both very good horror flicks with the former being a personal favourite of mine. However, his last foray into big budget movie making was a massive disappointment but after the critical failure of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Doctor Strange shows how far Derrickson has come as a director as he was not overwhelmed handling the gigantic, physics bending set piece.

Derrickson does stick to the Marvel formula with its witty central hero and poor villain (a waste of Mads Mikkelsen’s villainous talents) but there’s enough individuality in the film to make it stand out (particularly the Salvador Dali inspired hallucinatory sequences – think Hitchcock’s dream sequences from Spellbound and you’ll get the right idea).



  1. I'm looking forward to this, it's smart to fight in an alternate reality, that way you won't have to suspend disbelief that the other Avengers wouldn't know what is going on - something Agents of SHIELD frequently gets wrong. Great review!

    1. That's a good point. I didn't even think of that.

    2. [Spoilers ahead]

      Another way THE AVENGERS won't find out about the events of this film (at least not at the time they're happening) is that the final fight takes place in another country (Hong Kong) and, after it ends, DR. STRANGE turns back time.